Visa Bulletin Changes

USCIS made big changes to the way they published the visa bulletin for October. This was big news. But the bigger news was that shortly after publishing the October visa bulletin, it was revised/reissued, effectively rolling back the dates of eligibility. It’s gotten so heated that a class action lawsuit has been filed. So let’s look at the facts that have lead us to this point.

As many of you may know, immigrant “green card” visa availability is backlogged for many family and employment-based categories, among others. As a result, the State Department publishes each month something called “the Visa Bulletin” which determines who may file the final application for their green card in the coming month. October is often the most anxiously awaited visa bulletin as that is the first month in the fiscal year and often contains important projections for the year ahead. As is common, the Visa Bulletin is published 2 or so weeks before it goes into effect.

On September 9 2015 the October visa bulletin was released with great fanfare. For the first time ever it added a new category which reflected the date on which an application could be filed, and this date was in many cases far in advance of the date on which the case could be adjudicated based on priority date. The result of this earlier filing date is that those applicants within this window could file and obtain interim benefits, including a work and travel permit as well as greater job mobility while their green card was pending.

This initiative is part of the President’s visa modernization efforts and was intended to not only benefit foreign nationals caught in lengthy immigration backlogs, but to allow the State Department to better predict future backlogs. Unfortunately, the great benefit it can have has been marred and greatly overshadowed by the fact that the October Visa Bulletin was thereafter “updated” on September 25 through the release of new Bulletin which rolled-back some of those filing dates.

The roll back has been attributed to further discussions and recalculations made by the government agencies involved trying to avert further problems in the future. It has been hard news on those whose priority dates are no longer current, especially considering that some percentage of them may have made significant efforts to prepare a case in anticipation of filing and obtaining interim benefits on October 1. As a result, the national immigration lawyers association of which I am a member, American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) has tried to have the earlier Visa Bulletin reinstated and some individual AILA members have also filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of those impacted.

The ramifications of the Revised Visa bulletin are upsetting. The would-be applicants and their lawyers acted in what many feel is justifiable reliance on the earlier visa bulletin only now to be thwarted. However, it is important to remember that this entire new two-date visa bulletin remains a significant benefit to many, not just in October, but in the future. It will provide greater job mobility and more interim benefits like work and travel permits earlier than they would have otherwise been available. Thus, in the big picture, it is still a win. We just need to get past this first hurdle to see it clearly. Check out the new visa bulletin structure, the October release/re-release, and more at
http://travel.state.gov/content/visas/en/law-and-policy/bulletin/2016/visa-bulletin-for-october-2015.html
Stay tuned.

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